End of the Journey: West Again

It’s hard to believe we hit the road from Stamford only two days ago. We only stopped at one escape room and one Geocache along the way, but we also encountered a few scenarios that prove life is ultimately one big puzzle to solve.

Saturday, 4/24- we woke up with plans to head to New York City, at a minimum to visit the September 11 Memorial Museum, plus whatever other major landmarks we could see. We caught the train in from Stamford, taking the express for about a 45 minute ride from Connecticut into New York. When we arrived in Manhattan, we had about an hour until the scheduled start time of our museum visit.

I mentioned before that life is a puzzle, and I don’t think there’s any clearer example than city navigation. Getting from point to point in the city is essentially an escape room puzzle. You have to find the right map, orient yourself appropriately, and pick a strategy for getting where you’re going without falling into an open manhole or walking into traffic.

We started by heading to Time’s Square for a quick look at the famous intersection. We didn’t really enjoy it- too busy and everyone could smell we were from out of town so we didn’t want to pause in any one place for too long lest we look like ideal targets for every merchant and photo op.

Next up, another real-life escape room puzzle. The World Trade Center Museum was too far to walk, so we needed to catch a train. But which train, and where to catch it? I had done a little bit of pre-reading on the city metro system and had an idea of which two lines would get us there. But when we got to the train station, we found that the line had three different routes, only one of which would get us where we needed to go. We couldn’t find any clear maps or instructions in the metro station but were able to assemble a plan with clues we picked up along the way about which train to hop on, and thankfully, we picked the right one!

We were surprised that the station we arrived at was actually indoors, inside one of the buildings in the World Trade Center complex. We grabbed a quick snack at a coffee shop and headed outdoors.

After a few blocks, we encountered the 9/11 memorial- two massive rectangular pools, a literal void representing the loss suffered at this place. We reflected by the pools for a little while before heading in for our museum tour.

We weren’t at all prepared for how emotional of an experience this would be. I was in junior high at the time of the attacks and hadn’t heard of the World Trade Center beforehand. Now, reliving September 11 as adults, the tragedy hit me in different ways.

The majority of the people who died aren’t people you’d typically think terrorists would want to target. Americans with normal jobs, normal lives, with no major role in world politics. And then you have all your police, firefighters, medical professionals, priests, and civilian heroes who rushed to the scene to help. The sheer number of stories of heroism and sacrifice was quite overwhelming, and it really puts into perspective what’s important in life.

After our somber visit to the 9/11 Memorial, we headed down to Battery Park for a quick look at the Statue of Liberty- somewhat far away but still clearly visible, before heading back to the train. We caught a selfie with the Empire State Building on our way back and boarded the train back to Stamford.

We said our farewells pretty quickly after arriving back in Stamford so we could get on the road to make an 8PM appointment at Escape.exe in Bethlehem, PA. Escape.exe caught my attention thanks to how the website showed a unique level of enthusiasm and a desire to craft a one-of-a-kind experience, and the room certainly lived up to my expectations. I’ll write about that more in detail later, but for now, I’ll just summarize by saying it was “super cool.” Plus the room had a prequel online game which I purchased shortly afterward, which I have yet to play.

Sunday morning, we changed our plans slightly. We originally intended to go to the American Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, but after spending much of our Saturday contemplating tragedy at the 9/11 Memorial, we felt it would be better to save the Civil War experience for another trip. Instead we went to Hershey, PA, to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World, which caught my eye on our hotel’s rack of flyers for “things to do in the area.”

Funny story- Christina joked that the Hershey factory was going to be like Six Flags Great America, and I didn’t realize she was joking. And as we found upon arriving at the factory, she was more right than she knew. Hershey’s Chocolate World indeed was comparable in size and scope to Chicago’s Six Flags amusement park, and with its own stadium, amusement park, and factory, the Hershey facility may have actually been bigger.

Admission to the Hershey factory is free, and we got some chocolate samples on our way in. We took an on-rails tour of the chocolate production process before getting some milkshakes with the freshest Hershey’s chocolate you can get.

Quick Jurgis, we must recover the body from the chocolate vat. (bonus points if you get the reference)
Cue creepy Wonka visions and music.

We shopped around the massive facility and got some fun items for ourselves and our families/friends. My favorite item was a jigsaw puzzle depicting a whimsical version of the candy factory- a very fun way to remember our trip by.

We hopped back in the car and continued our drive home. We took a slight detour to visit the crash site of United 93, the airplane which crashed on 9/11 after the passengers heroically attempted to retake the plane from terrorists. It was another somber moment to remember, and the state did a tremendous job designing memorials by which the victims’ lives could be remembered, including a wall of names by the crash site and a tower of wind chimes called the Tower of Voices.

The Tower of Voices

After our detour, we picked Youngstown, OH as our stopping point for the night and got there around 9PM.

For our final day on the road, we planned for a quick escape room near Sandusky, Ohio, followed by a visit to the Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie. In the end, didn’t make it out to Marblehead. By the time we finished our escape room, our earliest ETA for home was about 6PM, so we didn’t want to add an extra 1-2 hour detour.

We pegged the Kalahari Resort and broader Sandusky area as something we have to come back and see further. Marblehead remains on our list, but the resort itself looks like a lot of fun, and there are quite a few islands on Lake Erie I’d love to explore.

We did end up taking a bit of a detour through Valparaiso to get some Hungry Howie’s pizza (Cajun crust is so good!!!). After that, we pressed onward and got home about 7:30.

No rest for the weary, though. I almost immediately hopped back in the car to check my local Barnes & Noble for the latest Sherlock Holmes escape book. (They did not have it.)

Tomorrow we’re heading to northern Wisconsin for a relaxing remainder of the week. After that we get an actual FIVE days at home before hitting the road again, this time for a St. Louis escape room adventure.

I can’t complain one bit. It’s nice being out and about again, and seeing all the incredible and meaningful places I’ve never experienced before.

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